Vero Beach council avoids electric utility issue during trip to Tallahassee

VERO BEACH — Instead of pressing state lawmakers on the issue of control of Vero Beach electric, three members of the Vero Beach City Council chose instead to discuss pensions, red light cameras and the importance of home rule during a legislative lobbying session in Tallahassee.

Mayor Kevin Sawnick said council members wanted to spend their time with State representatives Ralph Poppell and Debbie Mayfield discussing issues they on which they could agree and work together. Mayfield’s proposed legislation to bring Vero Beach’s electric utility under the authority of the Public Service Commission was not one of those issues. Poppell has come out in support of the city retaining control of the electric utility.

“We knew we weren’t going to change any opinions at this point,” Vice Mayor Sabe Abell said. Sawnick, Abell and Councilman Ken Daige made the trek to Tallahassee to participate in the Florida League of Cities Legislative Action Day Wednesday. They returned to Vero Beach Thursday evening.

“It was a compressed situation,” Abell said, later adding, “I think we did as much as we could in the time that we had.”

The council contingent was supposed to meet with State senators Joe Negron and Mike Haridopolos as well, but both senators canceled their meetings due to scheduling conflicts. The two local senators have come out in favor of the Mayfield electric utility bill.

Negron had been in a committee meeting that ran long and bumped the Vero Beach City Council’s meeting, according to Sawnick.

Abell said they were able to speak with Negron’s office manager to express the city’s opinions on the various issues.

Haridopolos, too, was unable to make the council’s meeting because of another meeting he had to attend, Sawnick said.

Though the contingent was able to meet with only half its local legislators, both Sawnick and Abell said they believe the trip was worth it.

“It was very productive,” Sawnick said.

The council members spent half an hour with each state representative and learned where various issues appear headed during this legislative session.

For instance, the council expressed its support for having red light cameras at key intersections to catch red light runners. There are currently three bills proposed at the state level – one of which would allow only the state to approve cameras and take the matter out of local municipalities’ hands.

The council also attended committee meetings to see the state government in action.

Sawnick attended the Government Affairs Committee, which has passed a piece of legislation that would allow municipalities to use alternative methods for posting public notices. Governments would be allowed to post meeting and public hearing notices on various Web sites and in other media formats, along with newspapers, which is currently required.

“We probably reach more people online,” Sawnick said, than the city reaches in the local paper. If the bill were to pass, it could mean substantial savings for cities across the state in terms of not having to pay newspaper advertising costs.

“I’m a big fan,” Daige said of the proposal, noting that he favors anything that assists the city in getting information out to its residents.

The council members also discussed proposed legislation pertaining to local vendor preferences, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, and a Senate bill that could affect the way teachers are compensated by tying their salaries to test results rather than merit increases.

Daige brought up Senate Amendment Six, which ties teachers’ compensation to student test results in his meeting with Rep. Mayfield.

“It’s just not a good thing,” Daige said of the amendment.

He, and his fellow council members, pressed the legislators to allow cities to make their own decisions about what is best for them, rather than having the state decide for them.

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